GST row: Kashmir civil society threatens ‘civil disobedience movement’
Amid growing chorus against Goods and Services Tax (GST) in Jammu and Kashmir, Kashmir's prominent trade bodies and civil society members on Thursday threatened to launch a "civil disobedience movement" if the state government goes ahead with implementing the new tax law.
Addressing a roundtable conference on GST issue here, former High Court judge Hasnain Masoodi said the application of GST to J&K would be the "biggest-ever assault" on the state's autonomy in the past four decades.
"The state would lose its law-making powers on taxation matters (once the GST is implemented). The Parliament would then make laws on indirect taxes for J&K and the GST Council would decide on tax rates for us," he said.
The conference was called by the civil society formation, Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies (KCSDS), to discuss the GST issue that has snowballed into a major controversy in the state.
"We are surrendering our powers. Let the Finance Minister tell us how we can decide on the tax rates and tax exemptions after the GST is implemented," Masoodi said.
He said the constitutional amendment 101 cannot be applied to J&K until and unless the state government gives its concurrence for the same.
"Our position is different from other states. While constitutional amendments are ipso-facto applied to all other states, these cannot be extended to J&K until and unless the state government gives its concurrence," he said.
The proposed extension of the constitutional amendment 101 of the Indian Constitution to J&K for implementing GST in the state has triggered a major row, with opposition and business community terming it as a "direct assault on state's autonomy."
Former President of Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir (FCIK), Syed Shakeel Qalandar said the GST would be a "big blow" for state's unorganized sector.
"It would also affect the small industries which get tax exemptions and other incentives," he said. "It is a conspiracy to destroy Kashmir's industry and strangulate its economy."
Former Chief Information Commissioner and former Chief Commissioner Income Tax, G R Sufi said the main opposition National Conference should play a proactive role in preventing the "onslaught on state's fiscal and political autonomy,"
"You (NC) should not play the role of a friendly opposition. You have to protect the special position of the state," he said.
Seeking a wider consultation and discussion on the GST, former bureaucrat Muhammad Shafi Pandit said the draft legislation should be put in public domain.
"The Finance Minister is saying that the draft legislation cannot be put in public domain on the pretext that it is privilege of the state legislature but in countries like South Africa, the law-making process is taken to the village-level," he said.
State secretary of CPI (M) legislator Muhammad Yousuf Tarigami said the GST regime is an "attack on those fundamentals which we have, so far, protected."
"It is an attack on the basic fundamentals of the Constitution of India which provide autonomy to states," he said.
Independent MLA, Er Abdur Rashid said the state government is "surrendering" its powers by implementing the GST.
"New Delhi is trying to snatch everything associated with J&K's unique identity. We have been careless in the past and lost our political autonomy. We cannot turn a blind eye to our constitutional and political issues while fighting for 'Azadi'," he said.
Chairman Democratic Party Nationalist (DPN) Ghulam Hassan Mir said there is no doubt in the fact that GST will dilute J&K's taxation powers.
Mir, who was a minister in the previous NC-Congress regime, criticized the state government for failing to explain how they will protect the state's special position.
"They are not explaining in which modified form they are going to implement the GST," he said. At the same time, he also asked civil society members to come up with alternatives to the GST.
NC leaders Showkat Ahmad Mir and Shammi Oberoi opposed implementation of the GST in its present form.
"The GST is not acceptable to us in the present form. It has to be in the modified form," Oberoi said.
Senior vice president FCIK, Javaid Ahmad Bhat said they will face bullets but won't allow further erosion of state's autonomy.
"We will be proud if we will attain martyrdom while protecting Article 370," he said.
A resolution passed at the roundtable conference said the GST in its present form is completely unacceptable.
"All the participants were of the view that in case J&K government is insistent on implementing the central Act, a civil disobedience movement will be launched, the responsibility of the consequences would squarely fall on the government," the resolution read.
The conference also asked the government to come out with an alternative model of GST which takes care of both state's political autonomy and financial realities.
Noted businessman Mushtaq Chaya was also present in the meeting.
Among others, Prof Gul Wani, Prof Nissar Ali, Prof Hameeda Nayeem, chartered accountant Abdul Majid Zargar, columnist Javaid Iqbal, columnist ZG Muhammad, Syed Niyaz Shah, Ali Muhammad Sherazi, Siraj Ahmad, John Muhammad Koul, Showkat Choudhary, Zahoor Bhat, Zinaul Abedin, Saqib Mir, Ehtisham Shakeel and Sheikh Ghulam Rasool spoke on the occasion.
Among those who participated in the meeting included Concerned Citizens Group, RTI Movement, Coalition of Civil Societies, National Conference, CPI-M, PDF, AIP, KCCI, FCIK, KEA, KEF, KTMF, CCIK, Young Entrepreneurs' Forum, academicians, trade experts and lawyers, a handout issued by the KCSDS said.